"Help! Is there a Cardiothoracic Surgeon in the room?"
31 Mar 2009 - 9:50am
4 years ago
Jared M. Spool
In an emergency, you fetch a doctor.
Interestingly, there are no doctors. Or, more accurately, there are
many doctors that you don't want to help you in a medical emergency.
(My good friend, with the Ph.D. in 15th Century English Literature, is
not the person you want to deliver the baby, even if he was the only
Doctor on the island.)
Many qualified medical professionals don't have an official "doctor"
title. Rehabilitation specialists, nurse practitioners, and myriad
other professionals deliver trained, quality healthcare despite
missing that quintessential label.
In an emergency, a layman looks for a doctor. It's a useful term and
it works great.
If you're having a heart attack, you might want a Cardiothoracic
Surgeon. Certainly, if the result you want is to have your chest cut
open, your ribs spread, and your heart massaged. On the operating
table, this is a great result. In the foyer of the Opera House, an EMT
might in fact be better qualified to help you. (Cardiothoracic
surgeons are doctors, while EMTs are not, usually.)
Some of you may know that over the past eight years, we've been
researching what makes the ideal UX team. One of our early results is
that ROLES DON'T MATTER, SKILLS DO. It doesn't matter if a team has an
interaction designer or information architect. It does matter that
interaction design and information architecture skills are present
amongst the team.
Teams with the right skills are more likely to produce great user
experiences. Teams missing the right skills are very unlikely to
produce anything exciting or delightful. (Of course, we can't say
'never'. Even a blind squirrel finds an acorn every so often. But, if
I'm staffing a team, I want to do so in a way that will have the best
Our research showed there are core skills: interaction design,
information architecture, user research, visual design, information
design, fast iteration management, copywriting, and editing. There are
also what we call enterprise skills, some of which are: analytics,
development methods, design-to-development documentation, ethnography,
social networks, marketing, technology, business knowledge, and domain
knowledge. (If you're interested, I wrote about these in more depth
and gave teams a tool to assess their strengths here: http://www.uie.com/articles/assessing_ux_teams/
On the best teams, every team member has a solid foundation in all of
these skills. That's important because it gives the team flexibility.
No matter who is available, no matter what needs to get done, a
competent and informed job is possible.
When teams are made up of specialists -- teams that have only one
person who can do a thorough job with a particular skill -- those
individuals run into the "binary workload problem" -- either they are
overworked or unnecessary. There is either too much work for them,
thus creating a backlog, or they don't have anything to do, thus
wasting a valuable resource.
The best teams still have individuals who are top-of-their-game in one
skill area or another. People who are up to date on the latest
thinking and techniques. But, because the entire team is fully
competent in the skill area, they can leverage their exceptional
skills in those areas on the rare project that demands it, plus act as
an advisor and mentor to the rest of the team, thereby continuing to
raise the entire team's skills further.
In my opinion, we'll see less emphasis on individual specialist job
titles going forward. We're already seeing that in the job postings
that have come out in the last year. They tend to be looking for more
generalist individuals with a well-rounded, rich set of skills. Many
teams can't afford to have members who are missing the core skills,
even if the skills they have are rich unto themselves.
(This goes beyond the "T-shaped person" concept that's been floating
around, or its more recent cousin, the "broken comb shaped person."
We're talking a full hair brush here. I promise to never use that
UX is not something unto itself. UX is a synergy of all the skills of
the team. The more skills and the richer each team member is, the
better the UX that will result.
And you probably wouldn't want to check into a hospital filled only
with extremely talented cardiothoracic surgeons, unless chest surgery
is the solution to every problem you have.